At Ferguson City Council Debate, Some Still Don’t See a Problem After Brutal DOJ Report

Mariah Stewart, Huffington Post, March 10, 2015

Members of Ferguson’s city council met Monday night behind closed doors to discuss the Justice Department’s blistering report on the city’s police force and municipal court–and in a debate before a mostly elderly, white audience, some candidates for a council seat claimed the problems in the report were overblown.

In the wake of last week’s federal investigative report into the city’s law enforcement practices, the judge who ran Ferguson’s municipal court has resigned, a top court clerk who sent a racist email was fired, and two police department officials connected to racist emails have stepped down. The report highlighted problems with St. Louis County’s fractured network of municipal courts that extend beyond Ferguson.

But some people looking to join Ferguson’s government think the Justice Department was unfair to the city. Two black women and two white men are running in an election next month to replace Kim Tihen, one of two representatives for Ferguson’s Ward 1. Tihen, a former police officer, was one of the officers involved in a 2009 incident in which a man was wrongfully arrested, allegedly beaten, and charged with destruction of property for bleeding on police uniforms.

Mike McGrath, one of the white candidates, believes that Tihen did a good job on the council and that the Justice Department report on Ferguson was unfair.

“They tried to go after Officer Wilson,” McGrath said in an interview after the debate on Monday, referring to Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. “When they couldn’t do that, they went after the city.”

McGrath drew strong support from the audience when he said the residents of Ferguson’s apartment complexes, who are mostly black, didn’t care as much about the city as the homeowners.

“I may be a silly old man in all of this, but I don’t think we have a big race issue here,” he said in an interview after the meeting, which was interrupted several times by other white residents who wanted to thank him and offer their support. “We have an issue with that part of town and they’ve been a bad part of town for a long time, sadly.”

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Doyle McClellan, another white candidate for the seat, has written about the report on his website and criticized many components of it, calling the statistics “misleading” and the stories of residents “mostly unverified.” While he says that there are enough problematic anecdotes to show that the city has problems that need to be addressed, he does not believe the statistical analysis of stops and arrests by Justice Department proves anything.

“One thing that’s often overlooked in town is, it’s not just a white and black town. It’s a white middle class, a black middle class and a lower class that’s mostly African-American, and they have a very distinct characteristics,” McClellan said. “When you talk to a black/white homeowner, they’re worried about crime and their streets. Much of the black lower class, the problem they have is they tend to be in the rental homes in the higher-crime areas, so they have a very distinct situation compared to what the rest of the town experiences.”

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